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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Shevardnadze to Stay in Embattled Sukhumi

TBILISI, Georgia - The Georgian leader, Eduard Shevardnadze, vowed Thursday from the Georgian-controlled town of Sukhumi in the western region of Abkhazia, that he would not leave the beleaguered Black Sea resort even though his house was "constantly being shelled and bombed to try to force me to leave".

But the former Soviet foreign minister also conceded that his Georgian forces faced an uphill battle against the advancing Abkhazians, according to The Associated Press.

"One cannot exclude the possibility of defeat", he said. "Even the greatest generals have been defeated".

Georgia on Tuesday declared martial law in the province where hundreds of people have been killed since Georgia sent in troops last August to suppress nationalist demands for more autonomy.

The rebels, backed by volunteers from southern Russia, stepped up their actions on July 2 with attacks on the regional capital Sukhumi, still held by Georgian forces Georgian Prime Minister Tengiz Sigua said Wednesday about 130 Georgian soldiers had been killed in fighting during the past five days, Interfax reported.

Separate reports attested to the ferocity of the fighting, and the success of the Abkhazian separatists. Shevardnadze himself said that the separatists had taken a hydroelectric plant perched on a strategic height overlooking the Sukhumi during Wednesday night. At least 40 Georgians died trying to defend the plant, he said.

Moreover, the Georgian Defense Ministry said that 20 passengers and a three-member crew had been killed when Abkhaz rebels shot down a helicopter carrying refugees in the province, according to Reuters.

The ministry said the incident had taken place Wednesday as the helicopter had been heading to the town of Ochamchira, one of the two towns in Abkhazia still in Georgian hands.

The Georgian Defense Ministry added that fighting was continuing in the hills inland from Sukhumi, and on the road south from the beleaguered town to the rest of Georgia, where the Abkhazians landed a force by boat several days ago.

By midday Thursday, officials in Sukhumi said the Abkhazian forces were five kilometers away to the west, eight kilometers to the north on the heights and 18 kilometers away along the coastal road.

The city was without power and water Thursday as the Abkhazians advanced. The head of the local government, Tamaz Nadareishvili, said that Abkhazian forces had completely encircled the city. "We expect a full-scale attack within 48 hours", Nadareishvili said.

Foreign diplomats based in Georgia including the ambassadors from Russia, Germany, France and Iran, flew with diplomats from the United Nations and the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe to Sukhumi to meet with Shevardnadze.

In a message to the Georgian parliament, Shevardnadze said he could see "some small signs of stabilization in Abkhazia". But he added: "It is clear that the Abkhazians are intent on taking Sukhumi and, by doing so, overthrowing the Georgian leadership". Shevardnadze has in the past vowed to resign if Sukhumi falls.